Friday, January 27, 2012

The first-grade grind

This week my son got a break from homework. Just as a reminder, he's 6. Years old.

Here's the school's reasoning behind this one-week homework vacation, which they call "The Week of the Family":

During the week of January 23, Encinal and Laurel schools will celebrate the Week of the Family to honor the vital role that families play in supporting the growth and education of children. Traditional homework will not be assigned during this week, although students should continue to engage in nightly reading and fact practice. 

Strong family connections along with adequate sleep and abundant opportunities to engage in free play are some of the most critical building blocks for a child's success. This week provides an opportunity for families to enjoy a slower pace in the evenings, reserve some time for simple fun, enjoy a warm meal together or ask our children how they would like to spend this time together. 

The obivous implication here is that it's ok to NOT have time to enjoy your family, have a quiet meal, kick the ball outside or, you know, just play, because when you're 6, all the kid stuff is done and you better buckle down because next year you'll be in second grade.

I've made it known to the higher-ups how absurd I believe this to be and was met, on one occassion, with the following statment: "Well, everyone wants their kid to get into Harvard." Um, no, everyone does not. When our kids are in elementary school, we want them to color and play and yell be kids! 

Friday, January 13, 2012


We just got back from a fabulous trip to the "Mayan Riviera," just south of Cancun. None of us had ever been to Mexico, and Nathan has a friend from way back in Chicago days who lives in Playa del Carmen, so we decided to check it out.

Knowing no Spanish and wanting to have some relaxation as part of our vacation, we decided to try an all-inclusive resort. Nathan's friend knows a travel agent who lives in the area, and she found us a place that had drop-off activities for kids 4 and up and also had reasonable rates on "family suites" (aka adjoining rooms). The only other similar adventure we'd had was on a Hawaiian cruise, where the food was mediocre and very little was actually "included," so I didn't really know what to expect.

We were very pleasantly surprised. The food was mostly awesome, the rooms were big and nice and we never felt nickeled-and-dimed. Room-fridge items, room service and snorkel gear rental were a few of things I was delighted to find out were really and truly included.

Perhaps best of all was the kids' club, where you could drop your kids off any time between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Twice we dropped them off during dinner time to have a grown-up meal at one of the many restaurants. It was also useful when 4-year-old was napping and 6-year-old was bored. (The kids club at Now Jade was for ages 4-12; I think you could pay $10 an hour for babysitting for younger kids, or if you wanted to leave the resort without your kids.)

We got into a routine of waking up, going down to the breakfast buffet (six different kinds of fruit-and-veg juices, mexican specialties, the works!), and heading to the beach for most of the morning. Nathan and I would sit and read or doze and the kids would play in the sand for hours at a time. Wait staff would come around a couple times an hour and take your order for any drink you could imagine. Then we'd go to one of two lunch option restaurants. Afternoons Noah would usually nap and one of us would hang out with Arthur. Evenings we ate together or the boys would have dinner and a movie at the kids club.
The boys made friends quickly on the beach.

Arthur got his face painted at the kids club
One day we rented a car from the resort and drove into Playa del Carmen. It was touristy but sweet and on a beautiful beach. We had lunch with Nathan's friend, John, and his wife, Libby, who have lived there for about six years and shared some of their experiences. They even run a web site about the area,

Driving there was not as bad as I thought it would be. (Of course, hubby was the one doing the driving.) John advised us to just drive defensively and we'd be fine. We did witness some crazy driving. Ironically, people seem to use their turn signals more down there then in the Bay Area. And we had heard all about the topes, so we knew to slow waay down for those.

After four full days at the resort it was time to depart for Chichen Itza! I was a little bit sad to be leaving, but excited for our adventure in the Mayan ruins. We hired a shuttle for the 2-hour drive to our hotel, Mayaland, where we had booked a two-night stay. The idea was to have a whole day to explore the ruins.

Unfortunately, we somehow didn't figure out that they stopped letting you climb on the ruins about 5 years ago. That reduced the appeal of the whole experience a whole lot. Plus, there isn't really anything else to do there. The kids got kinda bored. We should have either rented a car, or stayed one less night, or both. It wouldn't even have been so bad to just take the day trip from our resort and be in Chichen Itza in the middle of the day. It was hot, but not *that* hot.

That said, Mayaland is incredibly beautiful. It's almost 100 years old, and the ground are gorgeous. The rooms weren't outrageously expensive, but the food was. I was really glad I brought my water filter or we would have been paying three dollars a liter for drinking water.

View of Mayaland grounds from our huge balcony.
Our first morning we hired a guide to take us around for about two hours and give us the inside scoop. He grew up in the nearest town and had gone away to study English and tourism, but came back for this job. He was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly and helpful.

Our awesome guide, Roamy.
Though expensive, the food at the hotel was excellent. The lunch buffet had local fare, including tortillas made while we watched. Breakfast also offered local and American fare.

Mexican dancers were the lunch entertainment; this boy and a group of men and women balanced trays on their heads while dancing!

"Don't go past this step." Iguanas bite.

View of some ruins from our hotel.
To sum up, my advice is to stay at Now Jade if you will be traveling with kids. A couple day trip adventures to Playa and/or Chichen Itza are recommended. If you're going in winter, a day trip to the ruins is fine. If it's hot, spend a night at Mayaland and hire a guide to show you around from about 8:30-10:30, before it gets too hot and crowded.

Learning about Mayans is exhausting.